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Rethinking the WSOP Delayed Final Table

When I first heard that the WSOP final table would be delayed months until November, I was shocked. The plan called for the tournament's main event to run down to 9 players, at which point, the tournament would be placed on hiatus for three months while ESPN plays the 2008 WSOP. Once November rolls around, the final table is played over three days and displayed on TV a mere day or so later.

My original thought was that Harrahs had fucked up again. It seems like every year there is some very legitimate (and many less legitimate) reasons to complain about Harrahs' (mis-)management of the WSOP, but now that I have had some time to think it over, I've come to a new conclusion. The three month break may be the best thing to happen to players since televised poker.

Let's start with the negative aspects of the delay. First and foremost, if I were a player, I would be righteously pissed if I get to the final table in a several-week-long event only to be told that, hey, we're going to stop right here and pick this up in three months. A lot can happen in three months. A player could go on a losing streak or any number of things can happen in a player's personal life (family/relationship trouble, health complications, etc.) in that three month interim that could replace their temperment from confident (when they made the final table) to tilty. The pressure alone of waiting three months for some players will play emotional and mental havoc.

The darker side of poker cannot be denied either. In that interim, players can work out complex systems to collude. If you have less than a day between reaching 9 players and the final table, only so much can be done. Give crafty players with millions at stake three months, and not only can devious plans be prepared; they can also be practiced to perfection.

There are other potential problems as well, like what happens if a player dies in the interim. Does that player suddenly automatically get 9th place? That possibility is not so small. Give many people $1 million plus and their lives can devolve into something out of the movie Caligula. How about people selling thier action? Alone this is not problematic, but it does interrupt the natural progression of the game. Will unknown players have an advantage since they may be able to "scout" tapes of famous players in action?

But for all of those negatives, Harrahs has rightly pointed out one positive that beats them all: MONEY!

Make no doubt about it, poker is first and foremost about money. One of the biggest issues I personally have with the television coverage of poker events is the fact that the players are not compensated for thier appearances. Worse, the players actually pay to play and therefore are paying to be filmed and have their likeness used. I don't know much about the world of sports broadcasting, but I can be fairly confident that in one way or another, players in other televised competitions (I will avoid calling poker a "sport," since that's a whole other conversation) get paid. Certainly, I cannot think of any event where people pay to participate and be filmed for public consumption. Add to this the fact that the casino fees are only getting higher relative to the buy-in, and you have casinos and broadcasters squeezing the players.

It's very similar to the issue with the WPT releases. Players had to sign over all rights without any compensation. Sure, they are getting the chance to win some money, but if the broadcasters weren't there and the tournament was, that same money would be available. Arguably, TV made poker the legitimate passtime it (somewhat) is today, so this was all written off as necessary and even beneficial to the players. More legitimate, mainstream poker means more players, more fish, and bigger prize pools. But players were definitely signing over unlimited rights for free, and players were not benefiting in any way from the television coverage. If anything, the popularity allowed casinos to raise the buy-in fees, so any bump in the amount of fish was outweighed by the increased fees and the intangible cost of one's image.

How does the WSOP's delayed final table change this? Sponsorship. Give players three months, during which they will have the usual media coverage, and those players have an opportunity to work out sponsorship deals beyond the usual FT or Pokerstars logo shirt. The WSOP has set out definitive guidelines on sponsorships, but overall, they are very reasonable and player-friendly. Players can have an unlimited number of logos on their shirts, provided that they do not have two from the same company. Most likely, any deals made will include an incentive for players to remain in the tournament. The deeper a player goes, the longer Milwaukee Beast will have their logo on TV if they choose to sponsor the player. This likely built-in sponsorship incentive finally puts money back into the pockets of the players instead of the broadcasters or casinos. It also creates an incentive for every player to play their best, although arguably, the collusion issue still exists.

There are a couple of other minor benefits to the delay that I will just mention in passing. For one, I can actually avoid finding out who won until I see it on television, something that was impossible in previous years. I'm also very interested in the coverage the WSOP/ESPN will be providing regarding the players' 3 month layoff. What does a poker player do in preparation of one of the biggest final tables ever, and how do different players react differently? Maybe it is the reality TV junkie in me, but I can see this making for some interesting stories.

I should probably throw out a quick thanks to Matt Clark, a PR guy for PokerStars, for sending me a bunch of quotes from the Team PokerStar Pros. Since I didn't find a way to cram them into my running stream of conscious commentary, I'll leave them for you in their entirety after my signature sign off.

Tonight, I rest up in anticipation of the NYC Amazing Race game I am participating in tomorrow night. And if I'm feeling frisky, I may even bust out the ole Visa card and deposit some money online for some donktastic poker.

Until next time, make mine poker!

“I have never heard of a tournament being interrupted for that long before. I do not think it’s good for the sport to make a final table 3 months later. As a player you are in a special mood during a tourney and any break or interruption is bad for the game. It would feel like a new tourney.”

- Katja Thater, Team PokerStars Pro

“I feel it's a big tease to people who want to wake up the next day and win the big bucks. I mean what this infers is that people have to play six to seven days straight just to wait three months before they can seal the deal. I think that is this idea is fresh, but needs some more adjusting and review among the poker consensus.”

- Hevad Khan, Team PokerStars Pro

“I think it’s a phenomenal idea. People think poker is about luck and being hot or cold, but it’s not. A good poker player should be able to play at anytime of the year. Good poker players don't rely on hot cards or their opponents being on tilt. This is a great thing for pros and poker.”

- Victor Ramdin, Team PokerStars Pro

“It is difficult to say how it would impact attendance. If players have to leave for several weeks and then come back just for the main event, I think it would reduce attendance. As to scheduling the final table in November, that would be a very interesting and exciting thing to do and I would favor it.”

- Tom McEvoy, Team PokerStars Pro, 1983 WSOP ME Champion

“Besides, the excitement of the WSOP is all about the clock ticking down, the blinds going up and the field gradually reducing from thousands to hundreds to dozens to one world champion! If the whole thing was put on pause until November, all that tension and excitement would be dissipated for spectators and fans. Personally, when November comes round, I'm all excited about the new EPT season and I don't care about the WSOP any more until the following year.”

- Victoria Coren, Team PokerStars Pro

posted by Jordan @ 12:38 PM,


At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting take on the WSOP being delayed. I can see some of your points are valid , but if I were fortunate enough to make it to the final table , or even the game itself, I don't think I would like the idea of the poker tournament coming to a stop till a later date.


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